Kiribati faces its future, and a rising ocean

By J. Maarten Troost, Special to the Los Angeles Times
November 17, 2013

"Recently, a curious case appeared before New Zealand’s High Court. The plaintiff, Ioane Teitiota, a resident of the island nation of Kiribati, was seeking refugee status in New Zealand. His reasoning? Climate change and rising sea levels were making Kiribati uninhabitable. 'There’s no future for us when we go back to Kiribati,' Teitiota argued."

"I used to live in Kiribati, a remote nation of 33 atolls in the equatorial Pacific scattered over an area nearly two-thirds as large as the continental United States. When I lived there, in the late 1990s, the island elders were beginning to notice a strange new phenomenon. The spring tides, or king tides as they are sometimes called, were beginning to breach the typical high-water mark on the beach, inundating homes, flooding pig pens and streaming over the causeways that linked the islets of South Tarawa, where most of the nation’s 100,000 inhabitants resided."

"...Not long ago, I visited Kiribati and was struck by the changes. Those sea walls, built with hope, now look like the grim remains of ancient fortresses destroyed long ago. The coconut trees near shore — the source of the nutritious toddy that children drink for breakfast and provider of the copra that Kiribati depends on for its meager income — stand like mute sentries, dead and useless as they succumb to the tide. The groundwater is now so brackish that gardens refuse to grow."

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